Huntington orchestra may be saying farewell

Published 10:09 am Thursday, March 10, 2011

By Michelle Goodman

The Tribune

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — After more than 80 years, the Huntington Symphony Orchestra may very well be playing its swan song this weekend.

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Officials say it is a good chance that the group of Tri-State musicians will call it quits after Saturday’s performance of “Carmina Burana” at the Keith Albee Performing Arts Center. The orchestra was formed in 1930, five years before Carl Orff even composed the 24-movement piece that is to be its last performance together.

Executive director Hogan Haas said the reason the Huntington Symphony Orchestra will say, “farewell,” is because of a lack of monetary support and sponsorship.

“Our donations are down 39 percent. Our sponsorships are down 52 percent. Our production and musician costs are up 28 percent,” Haas said.

Haas said people just aren’t supporting the symphony as they used to, not just in the Tri-State, but across the country as well.

“In the last six months, six major orchestras have gone down across the country,” Haas said.

Even though sponsorship and donations have dropped dramatically, attendance and ticket sales have increased 20 percent, Haas said, noting that the crowds have been some of the largest the group as ever had.

“We’re getting people there, but our ticket sales are only 18 percent of our budget. You can’t rely on the ticket sales,” he said of the performances that cost an average of $50,000.

Haas, who said he is hoping for a miracle, can’t afford to keep the lights on in his office and is working without pay. Hoping for miracles or not, the April 23 performance that was scheduled for the orchestra has been cancelled.

“I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom, but we need funding bad,” Haas said. “It’s going to be short of a miracle.”

Haas said the Tri-State will be missing out if the orchestra can’t continue.

“It’s a very strong part of the infrastructure of the area because it does draw professional people, doctors, lawyers, into the area because it is a fine quality live music,” he said “It will hurt the economic value because it does bring higher salaries to the area.

“Not everyone appreciates an orchestra but if you think of it, Lady Gaga has a full orchestra behind her. Tim McGraw has a full orchestra behind him. It takes live music, live professional musicians to support all aspects of the arts. It is a fine quality that is brought to the Tri-State.

The orchestra will perform Orff’s “Carmina Burana” at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Keith Albee. Tickets are available and run from $18-35.

Haas said he encourages people to come out and support the orchestra and hopes that this won’t be the last concert.

“Donations and contributions are gratefully accepted,” he said, laughing and lamenting at the same time. “It will be strange not having (the orchestra), but will it be missed? Hopefully it will be.”